Beit Shearim: They took Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb at Bethlehem. Then Joab and his men marched all night and arrived at Hebron by daybreak. (2 Samuel 2:32)
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Many Christian pilgrims are interested in visiting the catacombs. A series of catacombs was unearthed on a hillside in Beit Shearim (Besara). Beit Shearim was a Roman and Hellenistic city known for its necropolis, large man made tunnels and caves made to hold coffins. The coffins date back from 2nd to 5th century AD.
The tombs within these catacombs were of rich Jewish people from all around Israel. It was their desire to be buried near Rabbi Yehuda Hannasi, whose tomb is within the catacombs at Beit Shearim.
Tivon, a city on the road from Haifa to Nazareth, contains the ruins of the village. There are two parts of Beit Shearim: the ruins of the Roman city on the top side and the catacombs, which are on the hillside below. The catacombs are secured behind gates and are within a national park. Christians and Jews alike can only be visited during daytime hours.
One of the caves has a small museum. The cave reused as a glass factory. This underground museum is decorated with huge arches and stone doors that look like wood and turn on an axis. They are made to look like gates, because Beit Shearim means “house of gates.” The museum has glass cups and coins on display. It also has a set of tin coffins, models of the mausoleum and other artifacts in its collection. Behind a central display, visitors are treated to a video presentation.
Places to Go
Behind the doors, pilgrims walk through halls of tunnels dug out of the limestone. In each tunnel and hall are dozens of coffins made from rock. There can be over 130 in one cluster o f tombs. Many of the coffins within the catacombs are decorated with lions, Menorahs and other important symbols.
The entrance of the catacombs of the Yehuda Hanassi is designed very similarly to the main hall of catacombs. On the wall of this particular cave are several inscriptions with Yehuda’s sons’ names. There were all buried in grooved on the ground. It was his will that they not be buried in coffins.
The base of the mausoleum was built by a rich individual. The walls are ornately decorated with animal scenes. A model of this structure is seen in the museum. Pilgrims can also walk around the hillside of the catacombs to see over a dozen clustered tombs. Each cluster was purchased by a revered Rabbi or wealthy family. There are many clusters of tombs ye t to be excavated awaiting both Jewish and Christian visitors.
The supreme judicial body in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period was the Sanhedrin. Yehuda Hannasi was the leader of the Sanhedrin and lived in Beit Shearim. He collected and compiled the six parts of the Mishna, based on the oral traditions and customs of the Jews. This compilation was his most important work. The Mishna was as important to the Jews as the Bible was to the Christians. It provided guidance for daily life. After his death, Yehuda Hannasi was buried beside his family in cave #14.
Beit Shearim then became famous. Rabbis and wealthy people all wanted to be buried in the necropolis to be near Yehuda Hannasi. For the Jews living outside Israel, it is considered a great honor to be buried in the Holy Land, especially near important people.